They had travelled from Mississippi to Texas, the young black man with a guitar and the older, white business man. Years later, people along their route would still remember this unusual sight.
The business man was Ernie Oertle, a talent scout who covered the Southern region of the country for the American Record Company. The man with the guitar was Robert Johnson, a 25 year old Blues musician from Hazelhurst, Mississippi.
Johnson had been recommended to Oertle by H.C. Speir, a Jackson, Mississippi-based record store owner and well-regarded talent scout. Oertle heard Johnson play and offered to take him to San Antonio for a recording session with ARC.
In San Antonio, ARC recording producer Don Law and recording engineer Vincent Liebler had set up a makeshift recording studio in two adjoining rooms at the Gunter Hotel. They had an electric phonograph that recorded directly onto lacquer-coated aluminum disks, with about three minutes of recording time per side.
Robert Johnson made his first recordings on November 23, 1936 in Rm.414 of The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.
At that first session, the singer/guitarist recorded eight original songs in this order: “Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” “When You Got a Good Friend,” “Come On In My Kitchen,” “Terraplane Blues” and “Phonograph Blues.” (He recorded 13 sides in all, including an alternate “safety” take of each song except for “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Terraplane Blues.”)
Johnson also recorded at The Gunter Hotel on November 26 and 27.
The first record released from these sessions was “Terraplane Blues” b/w “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” – #03416 – on the Vocalion label, in March of 1937.
Listen for yourself.
That 78-rpm record sold well enough for ARC to book Johnson for another recording session; this time in Dallas, Texas, on June 19 & 20, 1937.
All told, Robert Johnson recorded 29 songs in his recording career.
But if the only recordings he’d ever made had been the ones he made at his first session on November 23, 1936, Robert Johnson would still be considered the King of the Delta Blues Singers.
Those recordings are so electric and they jump out at you.